Friday, October 28, 2016

111. Monstroid and 112. Green Eyes

Jump to Green Eyes (1934)

111. Monstroid aka Monster (1980)
Directors: Kenneth Hartford and Herbert L. Strock
Writers: Kenneth Hartford, Walter Roeber Schmidt, Garland Scott, Herbert L. Strock
From: Pure Terror
Watch: archive.org

A giant lake monster, after laying dormant for years, reawakens and starts killing people in a small Colombian town.

We open with a couple relaxing near the edge of a forest—the guy lounging in a hammock, the girl dancing to the radio. The monster emerges from the woods and kills the guy. Years later, the corporation that owns the plant in the town is getting frustrated with local unrest caused by an anti-corporate activist and an American reporter covering the plant’s pollution.

To settle the issue, the company sends Travis to survey the situation and “deal with things.” He reads as a hitman the company’s hired which makes his transition into the film’s hero in the third act very strange. It is hilarious, though, during his initial briefing, to hear the complaints against the reporter. The company buys $4 million a year worth of advertising from the network she works for, but neither she nor the network will bow to the company’s demands that the coverage be softened.

That is the most sci-fi element of the plot.

So Travis arrives and immediately isn’t the primary part of the plot: the woman who survived the initial attack is now accused of being a witch and causing all the problems, the plant manager is having an affair with his secretary but is dumping her to date the mayor’s daughter, the reporter is refusing to back down but her conversations with Travis seem to be making Sanchez jealous, and Sanchez is still plotting against the company.

Who you calling "silly-looking?"
Anyway, several more people get killed by the silly-looking monster, Travis and Patty start dating, and they finally determine that there is, in fact, a monster. They plan to try to blow it up, but the helicopter they need ends up being used to take the original survivor to a burn ward after the townspeople try to burn her to death. Meanwhile, the plant is shut down briefly because Sanchez blows up the pipes leading into the lake, but accidentally blows himself up as well. So much for those plots.

Finally, a helicopter is hijacked, a goat carcass filled with dynamite is dragged through the lake and eaten by the monster, but the detonator falls in before it can be activated. So Travis dives into the lake, gets the detonator, and finally blows up the monster. The hitman is the hero. Twist ending, though, a dog stumbles across a clutch of eggs laid by the monster that are starting to hatch as the credits roll.

Lies, lies, and damned lies.
Pretty silly and politically strange. The opening credits say this was based on real events, twice, but that’s an attempt to justify why it’s dull. “But it’s all true!!!1!1!1!” The politics of the movie are what confuse me. Travis is pretty obviously the villain when he flies in and yet somehow becomes both the romantic interest and the big hero at the end. The reporter is never particularly antagonistic towards him either, which becomes its own curiosity. I was constantly wondering who I was supposed to be rooting for.

Even I'm confused, and I'm a puppet!
It doesn’t help that there are so many plots. I didn’t even get into the kids hanging out by the lake trying to get pictures of the monster or the presence of John Carradine as a priest who. . . collected a paycheck I guess. Then there’s the question of why Sanchez is present at all or the role of all the pollution concerns. I’d argue that the film itself is fundamentally confused considering it features the wrong title in its closing credits, calling the movie Monster there instead of Monstroid.

To the good, this movie appears to be in the public domain so I’ve added an MPEG-2 to archive.org. It’s a slog, I won’t say it’s not, but it is highly riffable. The monster itself is a delight of bad hand puppetry, and that’s always worth checking out, so watch it with friends and a strong sense of irony. That’ll help you through it.



112. Green Eyes (1934)
Director: Richard Thorpe
Writers: H. Ashbrook, from his novel, continuity by Andre Moses
From: Pure Terror
Watch: archive.org

A rich industrialist is found murdered in the midst of a costume party. Now the police and a plucky writer of detective novels has to figure out who among the guests and staff may be guilty.

A curious end to “Shocktober” and a curious part of the Pure Terror collection. This isn't a monster movie or really any kind of horror movie at all. Instead, it's a passable murder mystery. As a 1934 release, I'm sure some would call it noir—the chief inspector certainly plays up the hard-boiled cop stereotype—but this is closer to a straightforward Agatha Christie mystery.

And I think I slightly love it.

I'll actually avoid, in this case walking through the plot in too much detail since it is a mystery and the uncovering of the details is the pleasure of the piece.

We open with the party. The guests in various costumes are playing what seems to be a game of hide-and-seek. As they run as a group to find the mansion owner's granddaughter and her boyfriend, those two are outside driving away. He tells her that he's cut the ignitions of all the cars there as well as the phone line to the house. That turns out to be an unfortunate choice as the mansion's owner has been found stabbed three times in the back. Police stop the car and escort them back to the house so the mystery can begin.

There are various players: the couple, the staff, a business partner who's just shown up from Mexico, and a mystery author who was a former suitor to the granddaughter. The first third is a bit rocky with the cops investigating and the author offering both quiet observance and smug interference. He felt very much like Q from Star Trek: The Next Generation and I wasn't sure if he was supposed to be the focal character or a foil to the chief inspector. The chief inspector isn't much better. He's constantly berating the other characters and just playing the one-note take-no-guff-cop.

Eventually the movie decides that the writer is, in fact, the main character, and he's the one gathering clues and putting things together. Even though it's only 68 minutes long, the story manages to be both nicely convoluted and to hang together well. It moves at a nice clip, the outcome isn't obvious, but makes sense when it arrives.

There's an odd charm to these old movies. The film looks like it's one or two steps up from being a filmed version of a stage adaptation of the novel and the acting is really hammy, but I think that's the source of the charm: naturalism wasn't a thing yet and you can feel the tension of movies becoming a medium distinct from theater in pieces like this. There's a, not simplicity, but efficiency to everything as well. Everything is very contained: it's these characters in these moments within this story and nothing else is present or hinted at.

Obviously I recommend it, maybe within that specific context of watching a movie that's done in, for all intents and purposes, a different language than film is done now. The movie is in the public domain and there's no Mill Creek mark on my copy, so I've uploaded an MPEG-2 to archvie.org.

Friday, October 21, 2016

109. Keep My Grave Open and 110. Curse of Bigfoot

Jump to Curse of Bigfoot (1975)

109. Keep My Grave Open (1976)
Director: S. F. Brownrigg
Writer: F. Amos Powell
From: Pure Terror
Watch: archive.org

Lesley is trying to protect her brother Kevin from the outside world, but he keeps murdering people who come to the house and townsfolk are asking Lesley about her mental health.

We open with a drifter getting off a truck near some land with a "No Trespassing" sign that he of course ignores. He winds up at a seemingly empty house—it must be empty for all the time he spends shouting "Hello?" into its echoy depths—steals some food, and then is killed by the katana-wielding person who was hiding in the house.

I'll admit, the katana's a nice touch, the one interesting thing in this otherwise uninspired slasher film.

The next morning, Lesley, the resident of the house, is trying to give her brother/husband/lover (?) breakfast, but he won't come out of his room. I'm sure the movie wanted us to think Kevin's the killer, but it's immediately clear that Kevin doesn't exist and Lesley's the killer. In fact, that element is clearer than Kevin's relationship to her.

Anyway, Lesley kills a few more people—the girlfriend of a local boy doing work on her property, the local boy after trying to seduce him, the prostitute the local boy admitted to visiting just before Lesley killed him—without much consequence, and then feels guilty. She calls her doctor to the house, tells him she's made him executor of her will, and then relates a pointless story about hating the aunt that raised her and Kevin.

The doctor leaves, Lesley takes a fistful of pills, and, just before she dies, finally sees Kevin on the balcony. Cut to her graveside where the real Kevin is paying his respects. He goes into the house, which is now his, and calls to somebody upstairs. We hear them giggle, but it's not clear if it's someone Kevin has brought or if he's delusional the same way Lesley was and is imagining her there. Then he goes outside to bury the bodies, laughing to himself how Lesley was always leaving messes for him to clean up.

That's the movie. There's nothing particularly impressive or compelling about it and a lot of it is annoying. This has, hand's down, the worst bed music I've heard in a film so far. It's tinny, generic, and relentlessly annoying. On top of that, the twist is immediately obvious and there's no drama. The movie doesn't even offer up any camp pleasures so I wouldn't recommend watching it.

However, it seems this is in the public domain so I've uploaded a copy to archive.org here.


110. Curse of Bigfoot (1975)
Director: Dave Flocker
Writer: James T. Flocker
From: Pure Terror
Watch: archive.org

A group of students on an archaeological field trip uncover a perfectly preserved mummy. However, once they remove the mummy from its tomb, it awakens and starts killing.

This is a remix, if you will, of an earlier film called Teenagers Battle the Thing. That movie was the students uncovering the mummy that comes to life. This movie provides an extra half-hour of footage that’s largely a frame narrative happening in a class about cryptids like Bigfoot.

So we open with a voice over about human evolution that notes that monsters evolved alongside humans and still exist. Then we cut to a dog barking in the suburbs and shots of an approaching monster. The dog’s owner comes out, gives it milk, and gets attacked by the monster. Then it’s revealed that this is merely a movie the class is watching. The teacher is trying to tell them about cryptids and says they’re having a special to tell them about Bigfoot.

While they’re waiting, the professor tells them about two men involved in a Bigfoot sighting which involves cutting away to footage of that situation. They’re lumberjacks who see Bigfoot cross the road in front of them. They go walking through the forest to find it and one gets killed off-screen. It has no impact on the plot and takes ten minutes which, let’s be honest, is why it’s in the movie.

This is bad and you should feel bad about it.
The guest finally arrives and tells the story about leading a field trip years before. The group was looking for burial artifacts of Native American tribes—so desecrating graves—and stumble across a sealed tomb with a mummy. Opening the tomb releases a strange gas, one they suspect helped keep the mummy so well-preserved, and they take the mummy back to camp. One student says he saw it move, but no one believes him. He returns that night and the creature is revealed in all its laughable paper mâché glory.

Burn, baby, burn, Bigfoot inferno!
The Thing goes into town, kills a person, gets shot by a hunter without being harmed, and the sheriff comes to the camp to find out the truth. He puts together a plan to set the Thing on fire, but it’s not showing up. Finally it attacks the sheriff. The students go to check on him, find the Thing, douse it in gasoline, and set it on fire. The sheriff stumbles out of the woods, apparently unharmed.

This is Coast to Coast AM: The Movie with all the aesthetic quality of Manos. It’s silly-bad and really dull. Definitely riffable, and there is a Rifftrax version, but I wouldn’t recommend watching it on its own. A group of people could make this a hilarious watching experience, but it’s a slog to watch on your own. As an experiment, though, as a demonstration of how films can be remixed into something new, it’s kind of interesting.

The movie’s in the public domain and there are several copies on archive.org. I’ve added an MPEG-2 copy here, although the quality isn’t great. Mill Creek’s copy clearly is taken from an old VHS dub, but I don’t imagine there are any hi-def versions of this floating around.

Friday, October 14, 2016

107. Grave of the Vampire and 108. Mutant

Jump to Mutant (1984)

107. Grave of the Vampire (1972)
Director: John Hayes
Writers: David Chase, treatment by John Hayes
From: Pure Terror
Watch: archive.org

A child born from the rape of a woman by a vampire grows up to hunt his evil father down.

The movie opens with a couple going to a graveyard to make out, which is always a good idea and promises a quality outcome. As the guy proposes to the girl, the vampire Croft rises from his grave. Croft kills the guy, rapes the girl, and runs off when the gravedigger comes by.

There’s some material that feels like it’s going to be important—the detective investigating the murder and rape is closing in on Croft, the woman is told to abort the baby because it’s not alive and is actually feeding off her, the baby being born as an early version of Blade--but ultimately comes to nothing. The detective is killed by Croft at the graveside, the woman insists the baby is her lover’s child and so refuses to abort him, and the rearing of a half-human/half-vampire child isn’t explored.

This constitutes the first third/half of the movie, and there’s a lot the movie does well. First is the issue of the rape. It’s an inciting incident so, in that sense, is essential to the story, but the movie never makes it an angle for exploitation or entertainment. The assault happens off-screen so you’re not watching someone’s assault displayed for fun. Plus the cops investigating the case take her seriously, never question her story, and never halfway blame her for her own assault. She’s the victim and they’re focused on the person who committed the crime. I know it sounds PC to highlight it, but this manages to be a movie about an assault that does it right, and it was done in 1972. It’s 44 years later—figure it out, filmmakers!

The detective is interesting as well. Since he dies relatively quickly, he doesn’t get defined a lot, but he’s sketched out pretty well for the time he’s on-screen and the initial impression is that he’s going to be a mentor or Dr. Loomis figure for the kid: “He was there the night of the assault, figured out it was a vampire, but no one believed him. Now, twenty years later, the child of that assault is coming to the detective to hunt down his vampire father and stamp out the evil for good!” That movie sounds awesome. Unfortunately, this one has the detective killed by Croft at Croft’s graveside and that’s the end of that plotline.

Also the end of the production values. This is the moment when the movie shifts to the woman having the baby and, during the first few difficult weeks, learning that the baby will only drink blood. This starts to look like an Andy Milligan movie, that anachronistic moldering Gothic made in a contemporary space aesthetic. I like that look. There is a pleasure, sometimes, to seeing the seams because you get the sense that you could do this too. And the overall aesthetic of this first part works pretty well. There’s a nice tone, atmosphere, and then it just falls away for the rest of the movie.

Jump ahead, the child, James, is an adult, has learned the truth about his father, and has been tracking him around the world, seeking revenge. How this revenge has manifested or been funded is never explained. We only get introduced to it all through voice-over, and are told that James has finally found him.

Croft is teaching a night class (of course) about myths and fears under the name Professor Lockwood. James has signed up as a student and antagonized Lockwood briefly by mentioning Croft. After class, Lockwood flirts with Anne, one of his students who reminds him of his dead wife.

Anne and her roommate Anita live in the same building as James. James comes down to find a party being through, Anita takes him aside to ask about Croft, and then Anne leaves with James because she didn’t anticipate coming home to a party. She and James hook up which Lockwood sees in a vision. He visits Anne and Anita’s apartment, but only finds Anita. She says she knows he’s Croft and asks him to turn her. He kills her instead. Anne finds the body and is expectedly disturbed.

Not that it seems to matter much in the movie because we cut to Anne talking to brand new characters about the séance that Lockwood has invited them all to because apparently that’s happening now. Anne, James, and the sundry deadmeats join Lockwood for the séance. Lockwood tries to get his late wife to possess Anne, but Anita possesses her instead and reveals him as the vampire—a revelation that carries no weight because James is the only one who cares and he already knows.

You fail. You fail at movie-making.
The spirit leaves, James takes Anne upstairs to recover on one of the beds, and Lockwood kills the deadmeats. James finally confronts Lockwood, reveals that James is Lockwood’s son, and they fight. James kills Lockwood, but in the final moments, the vampiric curse seems to take him over and the movie ends with him as a vampire. And a goofy title card.

What starts as a low-budget, atmospheric piece devolves into an episodic muddle. The three parts—conception, classroom, climax—don’t feel linked, like the writer and director had the three big events they wanted in the movie, but didn’t know how to make the energy flow. I was ultimately disappointed by this because I enjoyed the beginning so much. There was a lot of promise that just petered out. The movie, frankly, felt like a mini-series that got cut down to a 90-minute feature: the key moments of each episode were present, but the material linking them got cut for time.

On the upside, the film is in the public domain and there’s a nice MPEG2 on Archive.org. Due to the rape at the beginning, it’s a little difficult to riff this movie, but it’s good enough to pass the time on a Saturday afternoon.


108. Mutant aka Night Shadows (1984)
Directors: John “Bud” Cardos, Mark Rosman
Writers: Michael Jones, John C. Kruize, and Peter Z. Orton from a story by Michael Jones and John C. Kruize
From: Pure Terror

Two brothers get stranded in a small Southern town while on a road trip. Strange figures start stalking the streets at night and, when one brother disappears, the other has to start digging to find out the truth.

We open with a man walking through the yard of a darkened house. He finds curious ooze on the ground and puts it in a specimen jar. He goes into a cellar through the outer door and gets attacked by something hands that burn, and he never appears in the movie again.

We cut to Josh and Mike driving down a country highway. Josh is telling Mike to lighten up and, to demonstrate his point, closes his eyes and lets go of the wheel allowing the car to go wherever it may on the road. Mike tells him to quit and Josh almost has a head-on collision with a truck. The truck turns around and runs Josh and Mike off the road into a gulley, leaving them stranded.

It’s in this introduction to our heroes, and, yes, Josh and Mike are the heroes, that you find the problem with the movie. Josh is being stupid and almost gest Mike killed. Mike just takes it—I mean, he doesn’t even try to grab the wheel to keep the car going straight. He just whines at Josh to quit it. And the truck that runs them off the road is full of giggling rednecks laughing at them for being city boys, but Josh almost ran right into their truck. He’s the problem, not them. The movie forgets where our sympathies lay.

So the brothers walk to town, arrive at night, and Mike finds a body that’s been attacked by someone with powers similar to whatever killed the man at the beginning. Mike wants to call the police, but when they go into the bar to ask for help, they run into the rednecks again and a fight breaks out. Josh actually makes things a bit worse. The sheriff is there, though, and breaks it up, telling Josh and Mike to leave by morning. Mike tells him they found a body, but when they investigate, the corpse is gone and a bum wearing almost identical clothes is found instead.

The sheriff drops them at a boarding house where Josh and Mike are given separate rooms and this is the part where you’d expect something to happen to Josh because he’s the jerk, the comic relief, and Mike is the character who’s starting to suspect something about this town and investigate. So of course a monster reaches out from under the bed and takes Mike. We’re left for the rest of the movie with the cinematic equivalent of the asshole on the other end of the bar that you’re so glad you don’t have to deal with.

Things don’t develop too dramatically from there. Mike asks the cute barmaid for help getting to a gas station since the town is eerily deserted, and she agrees after she swings by the school since she’s also a teacher. School’s been canceled as well and there’s a crying child there because he’s afraid of how weird his parents are acting at home. Teacher sends him home anyway—thanks lady!—and Mike finds a corpse in the school basement. He gets into another fight with the head redneck and then hides in the teacher’s car.

The sheriff and local doctor are confused about the state of the body so the doctor does her own autopsy. She starts describing the effects of the disease that seems to have killed the victim while her assistant is going through them and ultimately turns into a monster.

An hour in, we finally see one of the monsters. And they look. . .

Okay. Actually, they’re not terrible at all, but it’s mostly pancake makeup spread all over their skin. They look a bit like the dead souls in Carnival of Souls so it’s not that bad, it’s just not dramatic.

Anyway, there are a few red herrings—Josh is suspected of involvement with the killings, he’s still trying to find his brother, and there are nods to the sheriff and doctor having had a relationship. Eventually Josh tracks the contamination back to the local chemical plant which is causing the zombie outbreak, the town is completely overrun by zombies that night, and Josh and the teacher are saved at the last minute from the monsters by the sheriff and the state police.

The movie’s not terrible, I just didn’t care. The production values are okay and it looks nice enough, but the plot’s lacking and the characters never drew me in. Making the jerky brother the protagonist was a real misstep because I spent the movie going, “If you stopped being a prick for five minutes, ya might get somewhere.” Frankly, this feels like something Mystery Science Theater 3000 would have seriously considered doing for an episode. Rifftrax, it turns out, did.

I grabbed the Rifftrax a while ago, which was lucky because, as of this writing, it’s no longer available. According to one of the comments on the page, this has been the case since at least early September. The may have been mistakenly thought to be public domain and someone has stepped forward to make their claim or the Rifftrax contract to distribute the film expired. So it may come back. Definitely a strange occurrence.

So, yeah, it’s okay. You can make jokes around it and it’s not overly-boring, it’s just never that compelling or over-the-top either. It is more than perfunctory, which is to its credit, but it’s also probably part of that subset of 80’s horror movies where the VHS cover art was far more dramatic than anything in the film itself.

Friday, October 07, 2016

105. It Happened at Nightmare Inn and 106. Horror Rises From the Tomb

Jump to Horror Rises From the Tomb (1973)

105. It Happened at Nightmare Inn aka Una vela para el diablo (1973)
Director: Eugenio Martín
Writers: Antonio Fos and Eugenio Martín
From: Pure Terror

Laura, a British tourist arrives at a pensione in a small Spanish village expecting to meet her sister. The sisters who run it, though, tell Laura that her sister has left without a forwarding address. Laura's suspicions grow as other young women renting rooms likewise disappear.

Taking a cue from We Hate Movies' Spooktacular and The Flop House's Shocktober, all the movies this month will come from the Pure Terror set, a distinction that makes no difference whatsoever.

This is also, basically, the first anniversary of the Misery Mill. The first post with movies went up on October 9th, 2015 and featured Carnival of Crime and Absolution. Since the underlying purpose of this whole project is to find material for a potential horror host show, it only seems appropriate to start the second year focusing on horror films.

All that, of course, is said to avoid talking about It Happened at Nightmare Inn. This is a 67-minute movie that feels like a three-hour snooze. Although my blurb focuses on Laura as the main character, the movie generally focuses on Marta and Verónica, the sisters that run the pensione. After the credits end, the movie starts in the kitchen with them discussing what happened to “that girl” in oblique terms until Laura arrives. She's looking for her sister May who Marta and Verónica insist just checked out that morning, although they're being very suspicious about it. Laura checks in anyway, hoping to find May or at least news of her.

The movie plods along from there. Laura talks to people in town about her sister, Marta stares disapprovingly at a guest who runs around town in a too-short skirt, and implications about May's unfortunate fate come up in conversation between Marta and Verónica.

The young guest comes home drunk one night, tries to force Marta to take off her clothes, and Marta stabs her. I think this is the moment where Marta is supposed to be recognized as the villain, but it does feel like self-defense.

It's around this time that we learn Marta had been engaged, but her fiancé skipped out on the wedding at the last minute to run away with a “modern, foreign girl.” This, then, is the motivation, the why behind all the killings. Mrs. Voorhees killing camp counselors because their sexual distractions left her son to die, Marta killing liberated women in revenge for being left at the altar.

Anyway, Laura can't prove anything and checks out as a young woman with an infant checks in. Rumors spread around town that she's not married so the sisters decide to take the child to an orphanage and eventually raise him as their own. They murder the woman only to discover that she was married, but seeking a divorce, which Marta insists makes it okay. This sounds like Mike Pence's America.

Laura breaks into to the pensione to search the massive cisterns of wine in the basement, but hears Marta approaching before she can check the final one. She comes back the next day with a man, hereafter referred to as “Dead Meat,” who'd met both May and the murdered tourist. That night, he checks the final cistern and discovers a body. Marta stabs him in the back.

Meanwhile, that morning a woman had an allergic reaction to the food at the pensione and her husband grabbed the bit of food that she'd eaten. When it's checked later that night, it's revealed to be an eyeball. Verónica had drawn wine from the wrong cistern.

Laura discovers Dead Meat's body, is gagged and bound by the sisters, and is running through the pensione trying to escape as a mob approaches. The sisters grab her just as she falls against a window on the first floor, pulling the curtain down, revealing the sisters' actions to the mob that's just arrived. Close up on Laura's gagged, tear-stained face, THE END.

The movie has been heavily edited and it shows. There's a scene where Marta goes walking through town, hears the voice of a young man that works in the pensione, and spies on him and his friends skinny dipping. The next shot, she's disheveled, covered in scratches, and trying to rush home discreetly. I don't know if that was a scene of violence or if she took advantage of him, because he never shows up in the movie again and it's never mentioned.

There's also an odd logic at work. The town is so small that it doesn't have a police department—Laura is sent to the mayor to voice her suspicions—but is large enough to have so many tourists coming and going that three disappearing in the space of a week goes unnoticed.

This is one of those movies that would have been better if they'd pushed it a little further. Marta is running everything, but is she enacting the Puritanical will of the town (a local gossip is the one that tells her that the mother isn't married) or is she trying to get revenge for her fiancé abandoning her? Also, so many of the shots imply that the victims are being butchered and fed into the oven, only they're not. Let them get cooked and fed to the tourists! Why not? The revelation comes when a guest accidentally eats human flesh, so why not have them doing that all along?

Obviously, the movie missed the mark for me. It's just so blah in so many ways. It's Googlable if you'd like to watch it yourself and, while my copy doesn't have any copyright notice on it, it was originally Spanish so may very well have been GATT'd.


106. Horror Rises From the Tomb aka El espanto surge de la tumba (1973)
Director: Carlos Aured
Writer: Paul Naschy
From: Pure Terror

Hugo uncovers the severed head of Alaric, a warlock executed centuries prior. Now freed, Alaric starts exercising his diabolical powers in the hopes of resurrecting his sorceress wife.

This post has become an unintentional Spanish film double feature, and, like It Happened At Nightmare Inn, this movie is likely covered by GATT. I was initially excited about because I thought it might be one of the Coffin Joe flicks. Turns out that it’s a Paul Naschy flick.

On the upside, it turns out that it’s a Paul Naschy flick!

We start with a slow—which is the watchword for this movie, so much of it is slow—procession of medieval figures leading a witch and a warlock to their execution. The warlock, Alaric, is played by Naschy, beheaded with his head placed in a box to be buried separate from his body so that his soul may never find rest. The witch, Alaric’s wife, is stripped, hung from her feet, and whipped before also being executed. Most of that happens off-screen or between edits, but it lends a sordid tone to the film that, curiously considering how I’ve talked about these other movies, I kind of liked. There was no pretense that it was anything but sordid and I like when movies recognize what they are.

Jump to the present day where rich playboy Hugo, also played by Naschy, is checking in on his artist friend Maurice. Maurice is hung up on a painting that he can’t quite get right. It’s a figure in black, but the face just won’t come together.

You can guess where it goes from here.

Hugo and his friends go to a medium because Hugo’s heard rumors that Alaric’s head is buried on his property out in the country. As they contact the spirit and get the exact location, Maurice has a breakthrough on his painting and realizes the face is Alaric’s—the same as Hugo’s.

They all pile in a car, drive to the country, get harried by bandits that they easily dispatch, and learn that the townspeople in the region are a bit odd. They dig up Alaric’s head, but some thieves open the crate that night thinking it contains treasure. Alaric possesses one of them and kills all the witnesses present. Elvira, the daughter of one of the victims, comes to Hugo and Maurice with the news.

Alaric’s head is reunited with his body, he possesses Maurice and his girlfriend Paula, Hugo falls in love with Elvira, and Alaric raises the dead to stage a zombie attack on Hugo in the house. The scene doesn’t work narratively, but, according to Wikipedia, Naschy had just seen Night of the Living Dead and wanted to include something similar in his movie. You can tell just by looking.

Hugo and Elvira find a talisman that her father had hidden for just this occasion, but Maurice returns and kills Hugo. He tries to kill Elvira, but she hits him with the talisman and breaks the spell. Alaric and Paula run around town being vampires preparing for the great sacrifice which will allow Alaric’s wife, who’s possessing Paula, to be returned to her own body.

Climatic battle, everyone dies except Elvira who, having saved the day, wanders off in a daze and throws the talisman into the lake.

This movie lost me about halfway through; the energy just fell off. Until then, it moves at its own pace, but there’s just enough sense of weirdness to make it compelling. Once the zombie homage hits, though, it feels like they’re just playing for time. You can sort of guess where things are going to go from the start, although I’ll admit to being surprised that Hugo wasn’t possessed by or didn’t become the reincarnation of Alaric. They’re both played by Naschy and it seems like that would be the obvious turn.

However I think the movie is kind of fun, not despite the inevitability but precisely because of that. We know what’s coming so the pleasure becomes all the surrounding details—the setting and atmosphere. When the couples are driving up to the land, they’re attacked by a pair of bandits. Hugo kills one and the other runs into the woods where local townsfolk catch him and then execute him in front of the group. These folks are in a strange place and that weirdness, the particular Gothic tone of the movie, is really appealing. This could easily be adapted to a nice Call of Cthulhu game as parts of it feel vaguely Lovecraftian.

So, in short, not great but not without its charms. Good enough to have on while you’re doing ironing or taking care of other small chores.